January 31, 2008

WMC to restrict WJCIC speech restrictions

In a move that will likely be portrayed as a sop to its several critics, John B. Torinus, Jr. has been added to the State Bar's campaign watchdog committee, the WJCIC. Torinus is a board member of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which last year directed more than $2 million toward the successful candidacy of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler.

Ziegler herself recently forfeited a $17,000 settlement in fines and fees pursuant to ethical violations while a judge in Washington County. Ziegler's case remains before her current colleagues, who are considering another panel of Wisconsin judges' recommendation that Justice Ziegler be publicly reprimanded for her ethical lapses.

A number of WMC's fellow travelers, whose common goal is apparently to replace Justice Louis Butler with the virtually unknown Burnett County Judge Michael Gableman, have expressed reservations about the WJCIC's motives and potential effects.

Gableman is being touted in several quarters as the conservative alternative to Butler, who has been breathlessly depicted as a detriment to the "safety, prosperity, and health of the citizens of many states, especially Wisconsin." For his own part, Gableman describes Butler as a "liberal" and an "activist" who "legislates from the bench" based on his "personal sympathies or feelings."

In fact, Gableman attempted to accuse Justice Butler of relying on "The Wizard of Oz" during an online debate Tuesday. Fortunately for Gableman, he has a number of surrogates gathering on the horizon more than eager to do the heavy lifting on his behalf.

A WMC Matrix Unbound?

Meanwhile, a quartet of downtown Federalist Society operatives recently criticized the WJCIC on the op-ed pages of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, decrying the committee's activities as "inappropriate," and urging the candidates not to sign the committee's proffered advertising agreement, which reflects existing Supreme Court Rules on judicial electioneering.

While Butler has since signed the agreement, Gableman said Tuesday he is "in discussions" with the committee.

Rick Esenberg, a newly minted professor of law at Marquette University, has criticized the WJCIC extensively at his widely influential blog, deriding it as "truth police," and suggested that the committee's interpretations of Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules may be unconstitutional according to his reading of a federal case called Duwe v. Alexander. (The one sentence in Duwe that might arguably apply to the present circumstances concerns questionnaires distributed to judicial candidates by Wisconsin Right to Life during a previous election cycle.)

Esenberg is also the author of a memo prepared for the Federalist Society entitled, "A Court Unbound?" That phrase coincidentally happens to be the same (sans the question mark, perhaps as a reply in the affirmative) as the one selected by WMC to promote its statewide series of "breakfast meetings," which kick off February 13. The 11-page memo was praised by an Esenberg research assistant as "the definitive work" on the Wisconsin Supreme Court's recent jurisprudence. [It's actually very well done and doesn't deserve ridicule on that basis, but the praise is completely over the top.]

Additionally, the WMC has produced a video presentation, also entitled "A Court Unbound," featuring Esenberg seated in a book-lined study and pronouncing on a series of philosophical issues.

The one-page .pdf announcing Torinus's addition to the WJCIC is available here. The inevitable shenanigans that will ensue between now and the April 1 election will be available here and elsewhere.

[Please visit the iT Butler/Gableman archive.]

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